I am enjoying several books on my Kindle, one novel, two short story collections, poetry and a cutting humorous slice of real life, but no new reviews since the January’s Sunday Salon… in the meantime we have been to the theatre and seen some excellent programmes on television. Here are two stories that have stood the test of time…
Agatha Christie’s murder mystery play The Mousetrap opened in London’s West End in 1952 and has been running continuously ever since then. It is the longest-running West End show, the longest initial run of any play in history; there is a twist ending, which the audience are traditionally asked not to reveal after leaving the theatre.
The play began life as a short radio play called Three Blind Mice, written as a birthday present for Queen Mary, The Queen’s grandmother and broadcast on 30 May 1947. The theatre play is based on a short story based on the radio play, but Christie asked that the story not be published as long as the play ran in the West End of London. The short story has still not been published within the United Kingdom, but it has appeared in the United States in the 1950 collection Three Blind Mice and Other Stories.
When she wrote the play, Christie gave the rights to her grandson Mathew Prichard as a birthday present. In the United Kingdom only one production of the play in addition to the West End production can be performed annually. Under the contract terms of the play no film adaptation can be produced until the West End production has been closed for at least six months. So don’t expect to see any time soon a block buster movie brought into the 21st century and set in Bollywood or Hollywood, or perhaps on a space station. The play was set in ‘the present’ but has been left safely in the 1950’s.
I first saw The Mousetrap in London in the seventies while over from Australia on the ‘working holiday’ that never ended. As for many visitors to London it was a must see and my mother had always talked about the audiences being sworn to secrecy; how amazing that no one has ever given the game away! I enjoyed it and was proud to have guessed who dunnit.
This time we were at The Lighthouse in Poole, an early stop on the play’s 2020 UK Tour. I remembered who dunnit from last time, but recalled nothing of the plot so it was a fun evening. There is one set, the interior of Monkswell Manor, recently converted to a guest house run by a young couple. On the radio we hear of a murder and the police looking for a suspect in a dark overcoat; as each character appears on stage they are all wearing dark overcoats. Heavy snow leaves Monkswell cut off from the rest of the world, so of course when a murder occurs we know the murderer is in the house… A plot happily repeated on islands and trains etc. by Christie. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep us guessing and the second half especially moves along at a good pace. I’m not going to tell you what happens and if you know, don’t mention it in the comments.
We move along a few years into in the early 1960s for an excellent six part BBC Sunday evening drama ‘The Trial of Christine Keeler’. This is a story that never seems to lose its fascination, there have been documentaries, books and a film; the scandal has been examined with 21st century eyes. When I was a child it seemed to be on the news all the time, though I had no idea what The Profumo Affair might be. John Profumo was the Minister for War in the turbulent times of the Cuban Missile Crisis; not only did he have an affair with the naïve ( perhaps not sexually naïve, but in every other way ) Christine Keeler, who also slept with a Russian spy; to make matters worse, he lied to The House of Commons, his chums and presumably to his wife, who happened to be famous actress Valery Hobson. Stephen Ward the society osteopath was another leading character, a ‘libertine’ who mixed with the aristocracy and politicians, groomed Mandy Rice-Davies and Christine Keeler and was responsible for Keeler meeting these men in the first place. The press had a field day.
It is a tribute to the actors that our sympathies were with the two girls and Stephen Ward. They enjoyed living at his flat, looked after them is hardly the right term, Keeler was only seventeen when Ward met her, but to them he was a friend and they were having fun. When Profumo suggested he put Keeler in her own flat she replied ‘But what about Mand?’ She didn’t want to live by herself, she wanted to stay with her friend at Ward’s.
The six part drama was able to explore a lot more about Christine’s early life and the ex boyfriend dramas also going on at the time. Most viewers probably knew Ward ended up committing suicide, perhaps making all the more poignant the lead up to the sham trial of Ward. He was expecting his many important friends and clients to step forward as witnesses for his defence, but in the end they all deserted him. James Norton was brilliant as Stephen Ward. So too were Sophie Cookson and Ellie Bamber as Christine and Mandy, two girls who were real people, not just two dumb models to be exploited by everyone. From Stephen Ward’s elegant mews flat to the sixties clothes, makeup and hair do’s this was a polished production.
Have you seen the Mousetrap?
Do you prefer fiction or real life drama?